“Ghost — The Musical” makes its L.A. premiere at the Hollywood Pantages June 27 through July 13.
“Ghost” writer Bruce Joel Rubin adapted his Academy Award-winning script for the 1990 movie into the stage production's book and tried his hand at writing some of its songs. For the 71-year-old screenwriter, it was a rewarding break from working in the film business.
A long, rewarding break.
“I didn't have any idea it would be seven years in the making,” Rubin says of the musical, which premiered in Manchester, England, in March 2011 and began a six-month Broadway run in April 2012. “You don't know how long it takes to do a musical; it's an enormous undertaking.
“But the thing about a movie is that when it's done, it's done,” adds Rubin, whose other screenplay credits include “Jacob's Ladder,” “My Life,” “Deep Impact” and “The Time Traveler's Wife.” “You can't change a frame of film, you can't have a reinterpretation of a line that you felt could have been written a little bit better. You have what you have. But a musical is so alive. Theater is alive.”
The ultimate date movie of its era, “Ghost” melted millions of hearts with its tale of Patrick Swayze's murdered spirit Sam's struggle to protect and reconnect with Demi Moore's Molly via fake medium Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar, too, for that comic performance).
Sam will be played by Steven Grant Douglas, Molly by Katie Postotnik and Oda Mae by Carla R. Stewart in the Pantages production.
Among other cultural impacts, the movie reboosted sales of The Righteous Brothers' “Unchained Melody” through the roof and turned wet pottery clay into a briefly popular sex aid. Rewriting such an iconic story for the live stage was totally new territory for Rubin.
“I looked at my script and I said, ‘”Ghost” is too heavily plotted,' ” he initially realized. “But the structure was so essential to the story, I couldn't really make this the Oda Mae Show. So I started figuring out how I could compress scenes into setup preludes for songs, and then further the story through the songs.”
Great! But then, there had to be songs. While Rubin believed his material certainly lent itself to musical interpretations, the first composers on the project just couldn't hit the right emotional timbre. So they quit, and Rubin himself put pen to paper.
“I'd never written a song in my life,” he reveals. “But I thought I could write words, and so I wrote 20 songs and it was an extraordinary thing. I cannot tell you the joy of writing songs when you've never written a song.”
Grammy winners Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard were brought in to put music to Rubin's lyrics — and, since they were pros, ended up creating most of the show's songs from scratch. Rubin didn't mind; he's still got credit for four of the tunes, and feels his efforts set the tone for the rest. And yes, “Unchained Melody” will be heard at the Pantages, too.
One thing Rubin was not concerned with while writing the book was how in the world special effects sequences that looked seamless in the movie could be reproduced live every night.
“When I met (director) Matthew Warchus in London, he said he had been an amateur magician,” Rubin recalls. “So I knew he was going to bring magic into the equation, though I didn't know quite how. Then he hired this great illusionist, Paul Kieve, and Paul went back into the 1800s and found . . . tricks is a terrible word for it, they're not tricks at all . . . ways of doing things on a big stage that have never been done.”
Rubin says it still takes his breath away every night he sees a man walk through a solid door or spirits rise from still bodies. There's also live pottery throwing; each actress who plays Molly has to learn the skill. The writer promises, though, that no one in the front rows will get splashed — no matter how much some patrons might long for it.
While New York's reception to “Ghost — The Musical” was cooler than it's been in other parts of the world, Rubin's pleasure in the new creative experience remains undiminished.
But don't expect him to write “Jacob's Ladder — Stoned on Stage.”
“The thrill of watching your words getting laughs in different ways and making people cry different ways, that's an amazing experience,” says Rubin, who is currently working up some TV series proposals. “If I were 10 years younger, I'd probably work on another theater project. But it takes a decade of work to get a musical on the road, and it's not how I want to spend my remaining decade, or decades, here.
“This has been so fulfilling and so complete. Would having another one make it more fulfilling and complete? It would be wonderful, but I don't think it would. It's like asking what would a second Oscar mean. In my case, it means I could leave one to each kid, and nothing else I can think of beyond that.
“So, when I'm gone, they'll have to fight over the one I have — but, in fact, they both say they don't want it.”
Follow Bob Strauss on Twitter: @bscritic